Sean Dillon Is Back!
Jack Higgins has tried his hand at a vast range of different occupations, from circus roustabout to truck driver and, after taking an honours degree in sociology and social psychology, teacher and university lecturer. But the publication of The Eagle Has Landed turned him into an international bestselling author practically overnight. His novels have since sold over 150 million copies and been translated into fifty-five languages; many of them have also been made into successful films. Midnight Runner is Jack Higgins' brand new novel.
This is your eight novel featuring Sean Dillon, former IRA terrorist turned Government enforcer. Whats the secret of the characters success?
Well, hes on the side of right, most of the time. And people
have forgotten, because Dillons become so successful, that in
the first book, The Eye of the Storm, he was an absolute villain of
the first order. He was the man who tried to mortar bomb 10 Downing
Street, and I did the novel as a kind of Day of the Jackal -type novel
where the main protagonist was this terrorist who was lining up this
job, was going to takeout the British war Cabinet and so on. And you
followed it step by step: how he organised it, how he treated people
and, I mean, he killed a few people and he did behave pretty
Do you find that he takes on a life of his own, he dictates where the story goes?
Yes, what I start with is simply an idea for the story happening;
the plot grows out of that. And the, how does Dillon react to it? And
how do other characters react? You see, for example, in one of the
earlier books, by sheer chance - and this growth process happens in
books - I invented the American, Blake Johnson, who runs the basement,
downstairs in the White House. Its supposed to be a sort of
General Affairs department, but is, in effect, the Presidents
private Headquarters. I introduced this character, Blake Johnson, in
the book, and there was great response, not only from the readers, but
the publishers, particularly in America, and they said "hes
too good a character to let go". Therefore, in the later books,
her often joins forces with Dillon because theyre different
sides of the same coin.
Youve tried a lot of different lines of work before you turned professional as a writer. Was it always in the back of your mind that you would write novels?
Yes, because Id been writing from my teenage years. Its just that it was years before I actually sold anything. Then when I was thirty I got published, and I spent ten or eleven years doing crime stories, detective stories, police stories. The major way in which I changed was this idea that one was laying plots out just like everybody else, really, and what was needed was something different. The Irish troubles, particularly, helped me a lot in the early seventies. Because as I came from Belfast and I knew the background and had been raised on it, and I was therefore able to see into the heart of it in a way a journalist just going to Northern Ireland missed.
I went over to see how things were happening and I got this idea of a book in which a Dillon-like character, though he was English - a Paratroop Major called Vaughan who had been eased out of the army for killing terrorists in Malaya - ended up being given this job of going into Northern Ireland proposing to be a gun runner. His job was really was to hunt down a certain IRA leader. And its a very atmospheric book and it detailed the really bad times that were happening in Ireland at this stage: flames in the street, burning vehicles, street battles with the soldiers. The interesting thing was that when that came out before that, I dont suppose Id sold more than about three thousand, three and a half thousand copies it got in to the top ten, just at the lower end of the top ten. Before we knew where we were we had sold 12,000 copies of hardcover. That was a considerable move forward.
That turned me into a serious player. I did one more Irish book, A Prayer For The Dying, which became a very controversial film with Bob Hoskins and Mickey Rourke, and then came The Eagle Has Landed. Well, of course, thats history and theres not much more that one can say about it except that when Collins brought it out it stayed in the Top Ten for 36 weeks and was an enormous bestseller, a huge bestseller in America. It was bought all over the world, in masses of languages. We reckon over the years that its sold over fifty million copies worldwide.
Which writers have inspired you?
There are writers Ive read, at a literary level, who write
different kinds of books than me. I suppose that when I was trying to
hone my skills, I very much admired Graham Greene. I admired classic
writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was never a Hemingway fan. But,
in terms of thriller writers I always admired Alistair Maclean at his
best - HMS Ulysses, The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare. Years
later when his health wasnt good, a few of the novels became
shorter and thinner, but that was because at that stage he found it
more convenient to write them as film scripts.
Can you tell us a little on Midnight Runner?
Now I hope its very good: a sensational villain, an English
Earl from a very ancient medieval family, who through his mother who
was an Earls daughter, so hes the heir, and he becomes the
Earl but his father was an Omani General, so hes half Arab, as
are his sister and brother. Theyve got this tremendous pride in
their family, going back to medieval times and having fought in
Bosworth for Richard III and all that. But theyre just as proud
of being Bedu.
© Harper Collins website 2002 http://www.fireandwater.com